Wrestler of the Week: Kurt Angle

HeadLocker — Jay Shannon

OWW Wrestler of the Week: Kurt Angle

Our resident philosopher, Jay Shannon, profiles the former Olympic champion who dominated the Gauntlet Match on Impact to become one of the two team captains at Lockdown. While he did not win the Gauntlet, he eliminated close to half the competitors.

Kurt Angle has done it all in wrestling. He was an outstanding amateur wrestler, earning a Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympics. He moved into the pro ranks and dominated both major groups (WWE and TNA). Despite some major issues in his personal life, Kurt has maintained a solid grip on his status as a wrestling mega-star. On the most recent edition of Impact, Kurt tore through the competition like a cyclone. He eliminated 10 men, before falling victim to the newly-psychotic Samoa Joe. Angle’s amazing performance in the Gauntlet, along with numerous years of dedication to the sport, earns him this week’s OWW Wrestler of the Week award.

Amazing Amateur Angle

Kurt Steven Angle was born in Pennsylvania on December 9, 1968. He first rose to stardom in amateur wrestling while attending Mt. Lebanon High School. Angle won the Pennsylvania State Wrestling championship in 1987. Angle was also a stand-out linebacker for his high school football team. After high school. Kurt moved to Clarion University of Pennsylvania. While in college, Kurt became a three time All-American. Kurt also won multiple amateur championships during his years in college.

After graduation, Kurt trained under Dave Schultz (not to be confused with “Dr D.” David Schultz) for the 1996 Olympics. Kurt’s Olympic dreams nearly didn’t happen, due to a couple of tragic events. Schultz was murdered by an associate, not long before the Olympic trials were set to begin. Kurt decided to dedicate his performance to his late mentor. During the trials, Kurt fractured 2 of his cervical vertebrae and pulled 4 muscles in his neck. Kurt has played off this “broken neck” for years. His claim of wrestling with a “broken, freaking neck” is true, though somewhat exaggerated.

Kurt defeated Abbas Jadidi of Iran by officials’ decision. Kurt and Abbas had wrestled to a 1-1 draw. After Kurt’s inspiring victory, he was approached by scouts for the WWF. Kurt initially turned down a contract with the WWF. He decided to work for a marketing firm, instead.

Kurt’s Krazy Kareer Kick-off

Kurt’s first involvement in pro wrestling did not go well. Shane Douglas, an ECW mainstay, met Kurt and invited him to a taping of ECW. Kurt sat at ringside and provided commentary during a somewhat technical bout between Taz and Little Guido. Later in the broadcast, Raven faced off against The Sandman. In one of the most controversial moves of the time, Raven attached Sandman to a large wooden cross with barbed wire. The “Crucifixion” of Sandman totally revolted Angle, who stormed out of the arena. Angle would later threaten to sue ECW owner, Paul Heyman, if Heyman used Angle’s likeness or voice during any broadcast in which the Raven/Sandman match was presented. Angle turned away from wrestling and did local commercials and worked as a sports broadcaster.

By 1998, Kurt had decided to give pro wrestling another try. He signed an 8-year deal with the WWF/E. Creative decided to play on Kurt’s Olympic and All-American backgrounds. Kurt’s first storyline revolved around Tiger Ali Singh. Singh was doing a variation of the Ted DiBiase “Everyone has a price” gimmick. Singh offered Kurt a great deal of money to blow his nose on the American flag. Kurt refused and beat down the anti-American Singh.

Kurt was sent to Power Pro Wrestling, one of the then-developmental territories of the WWF, for training. Kurt worked a few dark matches in the WWF. His first televised match was a winning effort of Shawn “Meat” Stasiak. Kurt received a major push to build his character. He went through an extended winning streak. That streak would end at the hands of Tazz, at the Royal Rumble.

Intensity, Integrity and Intelligence

Kurt’s character began to morph, after Royal Rumble. The “All-American Hero” began to come across as superior to the fans. He began to preach the virtues of his 3 I’s: Intensity, Integrity and Intelligence. Angle pushed his heel character when he aligned himself with another former All-American, Mr. (Bob) Backlund. Angle quickly won both the European and Intercontinental titles. He began to call himself the Eurocontinental champion. At Wrestlemania 2000, Angle fought Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho in a Triple Threat match. Angle would lose both belts that night, without ever being pinned. As part of the match stipulations, Kurt did not have to be pinned to lose his belts. Benoit and Jericho each pinned the other, thus handing the other a championship belt.

Angle was then aligned with Edge and Christian in a mid-card feud against Brian Christopher, Scotty 2 Hotty and Rikishi. Angle and Rikishi would actually battle for the 2000 King of the Ring title. Angle won that match and moved on to feud with Triple H. Much like the current Randy Orton, Stephanie McMahon (then only a story-line wife) became mixed-up in a bizarre love triangle. Angle was very much dominated by HHH in their feud.

Once the HHH/Angle feud wound down, Angle set his sights on the WWF/E Championship, held by The Rock. Rock was beginning a short feud with his cousin, Rikishi. Rikishi aided Kurt in taking the WWF/E Championship. Kurt would have a decent run as champ, until losing the title back to the man he took it from.

Grabbing the World by the hair

After dropping the WWF/E title back to The Rock, Angle shifted his focus to old foe, Chris Benoit. They had, what many consider, some of the greatest technical matches in the WWE’s history. Their feud was incorporated into the Invasion storyline, where ECW and WCW stars attacked various WWE stars. Angle joined the WWE team, earning him catcalls and boos from the forces supporting the upstart group. Kurt would take the WCW World and US titles during the entire Invasion angle. Kurt pulled a major swerve when he seemed to “jump ship” to the Invasion Forces, only to drop a match to Austin to effectively kill the Alliance.

Kurt’s next feud would get a little hairy, literally. Kurt feuded with Edge over the US title. Kurt knew that Edge was very vain about his long hair. Kurt challenged Edge to a Hair v Hair match at Judgment Day. In addition to creating the look that Kurt has worn for years, the feud also brought out another Angle Trademark. Edge got the crowd to sing-song chant “You Suck!” during the music of Kurt’s intro. Kurt would use that for the rest of his WWE career. Kurt actually used the old Buddy Roberts “Wig inside wrestling headgear” gimmick for a short time. The original plan was to have him work towards a feud with Hulk Hogan, where Kurt would ridicule Hogan for his baldness. Various circumstances short-circuited the entire storyline. Kurt quickly abandoned the silly headgear and embraced his baldness.

Another series of bad breaks

Kurt partnered with old enemy, Chris Benoit, to take the WWE Tag Team titles. Kurt also began a feud with Brock Lesnar. Lesnar was seen as the Next Big Thing in the WWE and he was pitted against many top stars. During their feud, growing neck problems forced Kurt to the sidelines. It was promoted as another neck break, but the situation was not that severe. Angle should have been sidelined for at least a year but he opted for a less invasive procedure so that his recovery would only take three months.

Before his time off for neck surgery, Kurt had enlisted the aid of Paul Heyman as his manager. Kurt also recruited newcomers Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas to serve as part of his Team Angle group. When he returned, Kurt captained his team but also refocused on his World title goals. He won and lost the World title, several times. He feuded with both Lesnar and Eddie Guerrero. During the high impact matches against Guerrero, Kurt again injured his neck. Creative decided to move Kurt from an active competitor to an on-screen personality. He was made the General Manager of Smackdown. Kurt would use his GM position to further his feud with Eddie Guerrero. Kurt would aid JBL in taking the World title. That blatant interference would eventually lead to a “firing” by Vince McMahon.

The Gold Medal Challenge

After losing the GM spot, Kurt began to offer up his Olympic Medal (actually an imitation medal) to local wrestlers. This was to give the young kids the chance to get their big break. Truthfully, it was a chance to allow Kurt to look dominant in a bizarre series of matches. The Challenge led to the oddest feud of his career…against Eugene. The mentally challenged character lusted for the pretty medal that Kurt wore. Eugene took the medal but lost a major battle to Angle at Summerslam. Crowd response was mild, at best, so the feud was ended quickly.

Angle would then move on from Eugene to various members of the Tough Enough group of rookies. Angle defeated numerous members of the Tough Enough class to try and humiliate them. The story took a scary turn with Daniel Puder, who was trained in Mixed Martial Arts, trapped Kurt in a Kimura Lock. Ref Jimmy Korderas made a bogus count of Puder’s shoulders to quickly end the match. Puder would later say that he could have easily snapped Kurt’s arm from the Keylock position that he had it trapped in. Numerous wrestling experts agreed that Kurt was lucky to escape without a serious injury.

Wrapping up things in the WWE

At the 2005 Royal Rumble, Kurt began a feud with Shawn Michaels. Shawn had returned to the ring to eliminate Kurt. Kurt then took revenge on various associates of Shawn, including Marty Jannetty and Sherri Martel. Kurt would defeat Shawn at Wrestlemania 21, in what was honored as the Match of the Year. Kurt would continue to feud with Shawn, as well as John Cena. The three would meet in a Triple Threat match at Taboo Tuesday.

As 2006 rolled around, Kurt was moved to Smackdown. He won the vacant World title, eliminating Mark Henry in a 20 man Battle Royal to claim the prize. Kurt would hold the strap until Wrestlemania 22, when he dropped the title to Rey Mysterio in a Triple Threat match. After dropping the belt, Kurt was shifted to ECW. Kurt began to wrestle less frequently. Mounting injuries led to Kurt cutting back his schedule. According to an interview with Kurt on the Howard Stern Show, he had become addicted to pain killers, due to his neck injuries. Kurt asked for and was granted an early release from the WWE. Many expected that Kurt’s wrestling career was done. They were in for a complete and total surprise.

Total Non-Stop Angle

Less than a month after leaving the WWE for what was believed major health issues, Kurt Angle signed a lucrative contract with TNA. Critics were divided as to whether Kurt was pulling some kind of swerve on the WWE or if TNA was really willing to risk permanent injury to a wrestler just to gain some name recognition. It was never made clear which, if either, was completely true.

Kurt almost instantly jumped into his long-running feud against Samoa Joe. Kurt felt that Joe was his exact opposite and that Joe far inferior to him. The two men had some of the most brutal and intense matches in TNA history. Neither man has yet to establish themselves as dominant in the feud. Kurt would also feud, early on, with Christian Cage over the then-NWA World title. The day that Kurt took the title from Cage, the NWA ended all ties with TNA. Technically, Kurt Angle was the first person to Win the TNA World Title. The win was negated by Jim Cornette, the following week. Kurt would have to survive a King of the Mountain match to officially become the new TNA World champ.

Kurt would end up a double champion during his World Title reign. Kurt and X-Division champ, Samoa Joe, were forced to unite to battle Tag Team champs, Team 3D. The winner of the All-Champions match would gain the other person’s/team’s belt(s). Joe won the tag belts, technically for him and Kurt. Joe couldn’t stand the idea of tagging with Kurt, so he challenged Kurt to a Winner Takes All battle, with the TNA World, TNA X-Division, TNA Tag Team and IWGP Heavyweight titles all on the line. Kurt took the super prize by defeating Joe.

During this time, Kurt Angle’s real-life wife, Karen, was brought into the storylines. She turned on her husband, to aid Samoa Joe. She would spend over a year as a core part of Kurt’s storylines. She would eventually leave when she and Kurt split up (in real life).

Kurt would drop two of his three championships in short order. Jay Lethal would pull the upset of the year when he took the X-Title from Kurt. In one of the most denounced moves in TNA history, Team Pacman (Ron “The Truth” Killings and Adam “Pacman” Jones) were basically given the titles to push Jones’ celebrity. Shortly after that, Team Pacman were replaced by Truth and Consequences (Killings and Consequences Creed) when Jones was forced out of active competition.

Kurt’s neck began to bother him, again. To give him time to heal, Kurt dropped the TNA World title to Samoa Joe. Kurt’s return was marked by the begging by Kurt for Karen to take him back. That led to a twisted love triangle, where A.J. Styles “married” Karen during a reunion of vows ceremony. That led to a brutal feud between the two that came to an end when Karen was released by the company due to the personal issues between her and Kurt.

The Main Event Mafia

With the feud with Styles basically dead in the water, Kurt needed a new direction in his career. Sting had become disenchanted with the younger talent, feeling that they weren’t showing the proper respect to the veterans. Kurt manipulated this anger into a full-scale war. Kurt gathered Sting, Booker T (and Sharmell), Kevin Nash and Scott Steiner to form a group of veterans that would teach respect to the youngsters. This nWo-like group talked about how they were all former World champs and Main Eventers. That led to the name…The Main Event Mafia.

Kurt took over the leadership role, quickly, in the group. While Sting was initially seen as the ring leader of the new group, Kurt slipped in and began to rule the roost. He highly offended TNA owner, Jeff Jarrett, with some scathing comments made during a British interview. Many wrestling experts felt that Kurt was risking dismissal by his comments. Others felt Jarrett orchestrated the entire thing to push a feud between him and Angle. The truth probably falls somewhere in between.

As the Mafia began to get more dominant, Kurt felt he deserves the World title. As the leader or “Godfather of the Family”, Kurt suggested that he should stand at the top rung of the ladder. Kurt and Sting began to grow further apart, over the weeks. This eventually led to the somewhat boring Empty Arena match. The match “ended” when the other Mafia members ran out to break the two apart. Kurt threw the ultimate insult at Sting by spitting in his face. The two then squared off again at Destination X. Thanks to interference by Jeff Jarrett and Mick Foley, Sting was able to retain his title.

As Lockdown approaches, a Gauntlet Match was signed to select team captains for the Lethal Lockdown tag team war. Angle defeated numerous stars and looked to have won the match. Samoa Joe, who had begun a feud with the Mafia (after they broke his arm), rushed to the ring and defeated Angle. Angle was still a team captain but the Gauntlet went to Kurt. During the match, Kurt attacked Jeff Jarrett, furthering their feud. Kurt will almost certainly choose his loyal Mafia Brothers to form the new Team Angle/Mafia. Who Joe will chose is unclear. Kurt stands ready to take the next step in his career.

In Conclusion

While Kurt Angle has suffered numerous physical and emotional injuries over the years, he has continued to keep himself in the center of many of the top storylines. He was the key player in most of the major WWE storylines, during his run in McMahon-Land. Once his jumped to TNA, he firmly set himself as “the man to beat” in TNA. Kurt’s dominance in the Gauntlet Match proved that Kurt is still a top contender for the World title. It also earned him the OWW Wrestler of the Week award.

Peace.

–Jay Shannon
[email protected]
(3/31/09)